Age-old monuments hold a special charm for me and, most of the times, I cannot stop myself from walking around such places and taking in the atmosphere, thinking of what and who might have been there once upon a time, getting all goosebumpy at the thoughts. The same is the case for me with places that are in ruins, in tatters, barely holding on to the present, a reminder of what was, a bare shadow of a glorious past which is fast fading into that very same past. Decaying ruins are sad, but I find them hauntingly mesmerising all the same.
When we went on a completely unstructured trip to Goa last year, we didn’t have an agenda. We wanted to take things as they came to us, explore the place slowly and leisurely, as places are meant to be explored. We had decided we would soak in experiences that were new to us, as and when they came to us, which would teach us something and leave us with beautiful memories, rather than checking off places from a huge list. Wandering amidst the ruins of St. Augustine in Old Goa was one such experience that came to us on its own, without any plan on our part.
We were driving through Old Goa aimlessly in our cab, when I spotted the ruins. The sight of a huge, ancient tower in tatters, standing atop a hill, peeking out of the complex was enough for me to shriek and stop the cab from going any further. I was thoroughly intrigued, and couldn’t wait to get down and walk around the place. So, that is exactly what we did.
For the uninitiated, St. Augustine was one of the many fabulous churches that existed in Velha, the Old Goa of today. This church of Our Lady Of Grace is believed to have built as far back as 1602 on Monte Santo (called the Holy Hill), and was one of the largest buildings in Goa. Apparently, the construction of the church began 400 years before 1602, only to be completed in 1602. Not much is known about the person who built the church, but he is believed to have been an Italian. Sadly, in the 1800s, thanks to repressive Government policies and a series of deadly epidemics in Old Goa, the church started falling into a state of neglect. The abandonment of the church continued, and the church fell into ruins, one part of it collapsing after the other. Today, most parts of the church are fully gone, the rest standing as a relic from the past.
The tower that is visible from the outside is what once used to be the 46-metre high belfry of the church. In 1971, the huge bell that was housed in this belfry was moved to the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim, where it rings till date. This belfry, since then, stands bell-less.
I am guessing no one worships in the church any more, and that the ruins are more of a tourist attraction now. The lawns seemed to be quite well-maintained when we visited, though, and were freshly mowed.
All along the pathway leading to (what remains of) the main church, there are plaques explaining what St. Augustine once was and how it fell into the state of disrepair that it is in now. I am sure it must have been a gorgeous place once upon a time!
Broken arches and empty altars come into view as you walk beyond the belfry and into what once was the main building of the church. Even the ruins are, as I said earlier, hauntingly beautiful, and I couldn’t stop myself from conjecturing as to just how magnificent the original structure would have been.
Bits and pieces of the original tile work in the church hangs on till date, offering one more glimpse of the magnificence of what once stood here.
I could only wander around the ruins, gawping at them, conjecturing, with a sense of melancholy filling me at the loss of what once must have been a meeting point, a place of worship, a place that provided solace to so many people.
Thankfully, efforts have been started being made recently to preserve what remains of this once-beautiful structure. I hope this bit of history goes on to be well-preserved and receives its just share of admiration.
Want to read more about our experiences in Goa? Here are a few samples.
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